Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > THE SOUTH AS A FOLK PLAY: THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS, REGIONAL THEATRE AND THE FEDERAL THEATRE PROJECT, 1935-1939
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When Hallie Flanagan became head of the Federal Theatre Project in 1935, she envisioned the WPA jobs program as a way to develop a national theatre comprised of a network of government-sponsored regional theatres. A regional plan was more than organizational; it was a conceptual model for a national art. Flanagan and other theatre leaders sought to develop dramatic works drawn from a region's culture and history that together illustrated the American nation. The folk drama program at the University of North Carolina, led by Frederick Koch and Paul Green, was a model for regional work. This dissertation illustrates the ways in which the North Carolina program influenced the Federal Theatre Project and in turn, the ways in which Federal Theatre helped develop cultural institutions in the state. With few unemployed theatre professionals and conservative political leaders, the state, along with the rest of the Southern region, seemed an unpromising place for national theatre. But the Project supported amateur drama units that became vibrant community theatres and helped develop The Lost Colony, one of the first historical plays performed at an historical site. Because Koch had a national reputation for teaching playwrights to use local materials, the Project also placed unemployed dramatists, including future novelist Betty Smith, in North Carolina to develop Federal Theatre plays. These dramatists joined other writers, including African American novelist Zora Neale Hurston, who came to North Carolina because they were interested in folk drama. Plays about the working-class folk of the nation highlighted race and class conflicts, placing the plan for a national theatre in conflict with conservative politicians. The story of the Federal Theatre Project's exploration of regional art and dramatic expression in North Carolina illustrates the promise and the limitations of a regionalist approach to a national narrative of American community and identity.